The first film in this year’s Catalan strand at the Cambridge Film Festival, THE REDEMPTION OF THE FISH is a pleasingly small-scale story of a young man’s journey of discovery set amongst the canals and faded glory of Venice. After the death from cancer of his mother and using details gleaned from the letters she has kept over the years, Marc arrives in the city from his Barcelona home, looking to track down his absent father Paco with the simple aim of taking his photograph.
What Marc discovers in the Italian city, after locating the bookshop which Paco owns, is not the two dimensional monster he has created in his head (with the help of his grandmother) but rather an open and warm man who, with his new partner Lucia, invites Marc into their home and their lives. After this welcome Marc spends his days walking the avenues and alleyways of Venice, sometimes with Paco as his enthusiastic guide, sometimes alone, meeting the friends and families of his hosts along the way, including Lucia’s daughter Carlotta. Over the ensuing days Marc’s calls home to his grandmother and partner Nuri become less frequent as he slowly begins to fall in love with the city and its people – particularly Carlotta.
What becomes apparent though is that all is not as it seems in the little bookshop and in the lives of Paco and Lucia. Paco’s flamboyant former life as (among other things) a Los Angeles filmmaker and a Tangiers coffee shop owner begins to take on a darker appearance, as the legality of his current work appears more and more questionable.
an interesting view of a city which is all too often reduced to novelty
Marc’s search for his father to try and fill in the gaps in his life, particularly after his mother’s death, is beautifully directed, as is the fragile love story between Marc and Carlotta – this becomes a touching and hope-filled centre to the middle movement of the film, as well as a great way of discovering the back streets of Venice. This is helped by delicate performances from the cast, especially both the central characters; Marc is played with vacant charm and touching optimism by Miquel Quer and Samantha Silvestri has rightly won plaudits and awards for her beguiling but troubled Carlotta, who seems to be searching for something just like Marc. The sense of a group of people who are, for different reasons, living in the shadow of Paco’s exciting life story is palpable and intriguing.
Problems creep in when the film flirts with the criminal element of the story. The director seems to have thought it necessary to add weight and jeopardy to the film, when actually all it does is distract from the much more engaging personal stories, resulting in a sagging last half hour tying up loose ends that didn’t need to be there in the first place.
For all that, THE REDEMPTION OF THE FISH is a delightfully engaging film with lots of charm and plenty to say about family, the lies and half truths that we all tell each other, and the possibility of redemption through love; and is marred only by the director’s apparent lack of faith in the (admittedly slight) central story and its ability to hold the audience’s attention. Well worth seeing for the performances and an interesting view of a city which is all too often reduced to novelty, even though the lack of pace in the final act holds it back from fulfilling its early promise.
THE REDEMPTION OF THE FISH screens again on Sunday 29th September at 10.45 – book tickets here